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What future for Pembrokeshire?

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andrew-rt-daviesWhen the Welsh Government commissioned former NHS Wales CEO Sir Paul Williams to report on public governance in Wales, it made a low key announcement of what now appears to be a scheme for the root and branch reform of the way councils and other public bodies deliver services. In January, when the Williams Commission delivered its draft report, it recommended that the number of local councils in Wales be cut, claiming that there would be massive cost savings in reducing the number of Welsh authorities from 22 to 12 or fewer. At the time, even Labour AM’s were taken aback by the scope of the reorganisation. Lynne Neagle, who represents Torfaen, which would be merged with Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly under the plans, said in January: “For me, the overriding question that remains unanswered, is where the reducing the numbers of local authorities, particularly at this time, is the panacea for delivering that kind of change – especially when on reading this report, it often feels like the Commission started from the point of saying we need to cut the numbers of councils and then worked backwards, rather than keeping all options on the table.” Having published its response to the Williams Commission on July 8, it is certain that the Welsh Labour Government is determined to plough on and accept the Williams Commission’s recommendations whether or not there is cross-party consensus – or even consensus within Welsh Labour – as to their implementation. As First Minister Carwyn Jones made clear before ramming through the reorganisation of the Welsh NHS in the face of widespread public opposition: “No change is not an option.” After publishing its White Paper, the Welsh Government now seeks public responses to its threat to tear up local government in Wales and impose a new structure, the Pembrokeshire Herald asks whether its public consultation on the proposals is just a sham – a fig leaf to cover their embarrassment when the public realise what changes will entail. Announcing the Welsh Labour Government’s endorsement of the Williams Commission’s recommendation, the First Minister said: “The Commission’s report presented a number of options in terms of a map of merged authorities, but made it clear the decision was for the Welsh Government. I currently believe the first model described by the Commission, which suggests 12 local authorities, provides a coherent overall approach and strikes a balance between building organisational capacity and ensuring local democratic responsiveness. “It is my view that the Commission made a convincing argument that the boundaries of merged local authorities should align with health board and police force boundaries in order to best support collaborative service delivery on that basis. There would have to be exceptional circumstances in order to move away from this principle.” In Pembrokeshire, fears have been expressed that the proposals will lead to a return to the old Dyfed County Council. We spoke to veteran Carmarthenshire Council leader Kevin Madge who asked: “Why go back to what didn’t work? People thought that Dyfed was too far away, too remote from them and their communities. The Welsh Government has not got agreement from local government leaders on this at all and there’s a lot of water to pass under the bridge first. “We have a general election next year, Assembly elections in 2016 and a round of local government elections in 2017. Elections are unpredictable things and I would say that the reorganisation the Welsh Government want is not a done deal. “I am deputy leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, and I would say that the only way forward is to have a proper dialogue between the 22 leaders of local government in Wales and the Welsh ministers. So far, we have not had that. “Let’s look at the suggestion that costs will be cut and savings made. Well, I suppose there might be savings at top levels, but people still need their councils to deliver important daily services. I am concerned that service jobs, which are already under pressure, will be cut and councils will no longer be able to deliver vital services to its communities. “The cost of reorganisation will be £300m to £400m. How will that be funded? That’s the question. I do not think that the people will accept that money being taken out of the budget to deliver services to them.” He pauses a moment and responds to a question about service reductions: “The cuts we are having now are deeper than any of those we experienced in the 80s and 90s under Thatcher. But the cuts now being imposed are on a much smaller base than those were. Things are tough already and it is difficult to see where further cuts can be made without damaging frontline services.” On Council Tax, Mr Madge had even more misgivings: “Pembrokeshire has low Council tax. The rates of Council tax would have to be brought into line across merged authorities. How could that be done? In current higher Council Tax areas, would it go down? If so, how would you make up the shortfall? In lower Council Tax areas, it would need to go up. It’s a minefield to sort out. Frontline services will suffer.” “As for savings, I was a Councillor in 1996 when the last reorganisation took place. Any new structure will take five to eight years to ‘bed in’ and it could take eight to ten years for a new authority to fully get to grips with things. Things won’t improve overnight. Reorganization is not a magic wand.” On the opposite side of the political fence, there is agreement with Kevin Madge’s position. Simon Hart MP told us: “I have got pretty serious misgivings about losing a local authority for Pembrokeshire. After all, we were all relieved when we reverted from Dyfed County Council. However it should be possible to share costs, some services and purchasing contracts (as is the case already in certain parts of London) with other authorities, without losing our County identity and knowledge. The more local the Council, the more accountable we can make it.” And his views were echoed by local AM Paul Davies: “I have some serious concerns that local identities of areas across Wales will be swallowed up in mergers and so any tinkering with local authorities’ boundaries must be fully consulted upon and they need to incorporate an accurate cost/benefit analysis. “Pembrokeshire residents currently enjoy low council taxes and if we returned to the old Dyfed model, as suggested by the Williams Commission, I’m given to understand that council tax could rise by 26%. This would undoubtedly worry my constituents and so any moves to change boundaries must take on board the effects of council tax rises for hard-pressed people living in Pembrokeshire. “The Pembrokeshire brand is synonymous across the globe with tourism and food produce. We need to do everything we can to protect the Pembrokeshire brand, which could be lost under these merger plans. Many people fought long and hard against the old Dyfed model and so we must not lose Pembrokeshire in the Welsh Government’s drive to centralisation across Wales.” Welsh Conservative Leader Andrew R T Davies told the Herald: “Welsh Labour made no reference to these plans to restructure local government in their 2011 Assembly manifesto and have no democratic mandate to do so. “We will closely monitor any proposals that Welsh Labour bring forward and fight to ensure that small authorities retain a strong voice in local government. “Ultimately it would be a very sad day for democracy in Wales if local government reform leads communities to feel greater disconnect with their councils.”

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Milford Haven: Man charged over two burglaries and criminal damage

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE have released an update in relation to the spate of burglaries in Milford Haven

34-year-old Thomas John Picton has been charged with two burglaries and criminal damage in the town.

He is, say police, suspected of being involved in a burglary carried out at Cohen’s pharmacy of November 26, another at Heaven Scent shop and criminal damage to a door at The Precinct on the same date.

He will appear before Llanelli Magistrates’ Courts this morning (Dec 3).

An arrest has also been made in relation to a more recent burglary at the Royal British Legion on December 11. He was also arrested on suspicion of possession of class A.B and C drugs. He has been released under investigation.

One suspect is outstanding.

Some 11 arrests have now been made in connection with a spate of burglaries that has targeted businesses and homes in the town.

Dyfed-Powys Police has vowed to continue to crack down on suspects and prevent further burglaries in the lead up to Christmas.

Sergeant Terri Harrison from Milford Haven’s Neighbourhood Policing team said: “Hopefully this arrest provides some reassurance to the public following recent burglaries in the town. One burglary is one too many, and we will ensure that it will remain a priority for us, ensuring that we bring as much patrol cover and preventative effort as we possibly can.

“We are also aware of the impact that burglaries can have on individual householders and businesses alike. Don’t make it easy for them, stay alert to your surroundings and report anything suspicious to police immediately no matter how insignificant it may seem. The report of a suspicious vehicle or people acting strangely in your neighbourhood can help us to prevent and detect crime. We need to work together to tackle this.”

Chief Inspector Harries added: “There has been a significant amount of work carried out by the Criminal Investigation Department, response officers and neighbourhood policing teams from across the county to tackle this rise in burglary offences. We are committed to maintaining patrols in the area and seek support from the community to report any concerns.”

If you would like further advice on home security you can contact your local Neighbourhood Policing Team on 101.

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Carmarthen West & South Pembs still blue as Hart increases majority

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SIMON HART has retained his Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire seat with an increased majority.

Polling over 22,000 votes, he comfortably saw off the challenge of Labour’s Marc Tierney, who recorded just shy of 14,500 votes.

Plaid’s Dr Rhys Thomas polled over 3,000 votes in third. Alistair Cameron of the Liberal Democrats finished fourth.

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Stephen Crabb demolishes Labour with his biggest ever majority

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POLLING the largest ever number of votes for the Conservatives in Preseli Pembrokeshire, Stephen Crabb increased his majority in yesterday’s General Election.

Mr Crabb polled 21,381 votes against his nearest rival’s (Labour’s Philippa Thompson) 16,319.

Plaid Cymru finished third with 2,776 votes and the Liberal Democrats trailed home in fourth with 1,943 votes.

After Returning Officer Ian Westley announced the outcome, Mr Crabb gave a notably short victory speech in which he concentrated on thanking his opponents for a good campaign fought hard but with little personal rancour.

Philippa Thompson called on Mr Crabb to work for the benefit of all his constituents in response.

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